Home MTA Politics After accident, disabled riders push for better access

After accident, disabled riders push for better access

by Benjamin Kabak

The New York City subways are not, by any stretch of the imagination, wheelchair accessible. While new stations and those undergoing renovations must adhere to ADA regulations, the subway system is replete with staircases old enough to be grandfathered out of automatic ADA compliance. Not everyone is happy about this.

Enter Michael Harris and the Disabled Riders Coalition. Harris, 23 and a recent grad of Manhattanville College, is the executive director of a coalition of disabled and non-disabled riders who are advocating for a subway system more accommodating to those in wheelchairs and those with other disabilities.

While Harris is constantly working to monitor ADA compliance and accessibility in the subway system, every few months an accident comes along that tragically thrusts the Disabled Riders Coalition into the spotlight. This week, when a train at Penn Station struck and seriously injured a woman in a wheelchair, was one of those times.

Here’s what happened, courtesy of Newsday:

A woman was struck by a train and seriously injured after the back wheels of her electric wheelchair got stuck on the yellow studded area of a Penn Station subway platform, police said yesterday.

The Manhattan woman, 52, whom police did not identify, had just gotten off a No. 2 train Sunday evening when she turned her head to see why her chair was caught, witnesses told investigators. As the train pulled away, one of its cars struck her head, then another car hit her wheelchair, catapulting her from the chair and into a column, police said.

While NYCT officials were quick to note that they “heard other things” as well as this account, the agency is investigating. Ironically, the yellow edge with the raised studs is designed to keep all riders — but notably those with vision impairments — away from the edge of the platforms.

On Monday, Harris and his group led a news conference to draw some attention to this matter. “I myself on numerous occasions have been hit by a train and just knocked to the side a little bit. Sadly, in her case, it was much worse,” Harris said to Newsday.

The MTA, meanwhile, has plans to make 100 stations wheelchair-accessible within the next 13 years. Right now, just 61 of the system’s 468 stations are accessible. All of the stations along Second Ave. will be fully accessible and ADA compliant.

Now, I understand that it takes a long time to install elevator systems that run from street level to the turnstile plaza to the tracks. I also understand that, in many cases, the areas around train stations are simply too built up to fit in an elevator without some serious negotiating by the MTA. However, I would have to believe that it’s possible to make more than 39 stations accessible in 13 years.

It’s not easy to modernize and bring a 100-year-old subway system up to speed on ADA compliancy. But it should happen sooner rather than later.

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stepheneliot October 3, 2007 - 12:47 pm

This article really struck home because of a friend who is wheel-chair bound because of Post-Polio Syndrome. Both she and her husband have fits about the minimal accomodations there are for the handicapped,and the story that appears in today’s 2AS poignantly brings this problem to the fore.

Victoria October 4, 2007 - 9:26 pm

Yeahhh, three stations per year is kind of a poor rate of progress.

vicki smith January 8, 2008 - 1:07 am

It’s ridiculous. I’m temporarily in a wheelchair and I find I can’t take the subway from my home. There is no ramp, no elevator, nothing. I’m staying home or getting rides. In some stations in Manhattan there are many, many stairs to climb. In some there are escalators that don’t work or elevators that smell so bad they make you sick.
Also, if you’re on private disability, you have lost half your income yet you are not eligible to get the MTA discount pass unless you’re on Social Security. Even if you qualify for Social Security, the way the system is set up it can take years to get. Some of my doctors are in the suburbs and the train costs are high without the pass. Worse, even for those ON Social Security, the MTA only gives the discount pass for SOME disabilities, those having to do with blindness or walking problems–the point is, regardless of WHY you are disabled, all people on disability are not getting their previous income (or never had any) and can’t afford the high commuting prices–they’re too high even for many working people. So, you can be unable to walk, and on private disability but not on SS and have to pay full price and be excluded from using many stations. Or you can be unable to work for some other reason, say, and have to pay full price though you are living on practically nothing especially if you are on SSI not SSDI–some people on SSI have NEVER been able to work so they have no savings. The system makes no sense!

Second Ave. Sagas | Blogging the NYC Subways » Blog Archive » Handicapped riders navigate a limited subway system April 18, 2008 - 12:54 am

[…] to riders of the subway who are faced with limited staircase mobility. Disabled riders have long tried to get their voices heard, and it is only as old stations undergo renovations that they must be made […]


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